100 years of the Spa

THIS year one of Suffolk's best-loved landmarks celebrates a milestone. Felixstowe's Spa Pavilion theatre is 100 years old. JAMES MARSTON finds out more about the venue's history.

James Marston

THIS year one of Suffolk's best-loved landmarks celebrates a milestone. Felixstowe's Spa Pavilion theatre is 100 years old. JAMES MARSTON finds out more about the venue's history.

IT'S hard to believe that the Spa Pavilion started off as a bandstand - but the pictures prove it.

Back in 1907 it was a simple and elegant Edwardian structure.


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It was the first permanent structure built on the site - it housed up to 30 musicians and had seating for 400 people, though it was open to the elements.

Back then Felixstowe was in its heyday. It was a fashionable resort frequented for its spa waters and sea air and just a few years earlier the Empress of Germany had made a much-celebrated visit.

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So in 1909 it was decided to build a floral hall on the site.

Spa general manager Julie Howes said: “Because Felixstowe had grown as a town and a summer resort an all-year venue was needed which could withstand the weather. Harry Clegg, the county surveyor, designed the new floral hall and Henry J Linzell, a local builder, built it.”

It was based on the Floral Hall in Bridlington.

Julie added: “The bandstand was not destroyed but was incorporated into the new building, it was an unusual structure as the sides of the Floral Hall could be opened out so that people walking along the promenade could see in and hear the music.”

The magnificent hall was opened by Lord Claude Hamilton, the chairman of The Great Eastern Railway Company, on June 25, 1909.

Julie said: “It cost �7,000 to build and had seating for about 700 people. It was 132 feet long and 70 feet wide. On the west side of the Floral Hall was a tearoom.”

A menu of the period showed that tea cost 4d per pot, coffee 3d and ice-creams 4d, all served by an army of uniformed waitresses.

Felixstowe was developing as a resort and in 1928 the Spa Gardens were opened.

But tastes were changing and the Floral Hall was closed in 1938 and destroyed.

The Spa Pavilion was designed and built on the site. It was similar in design to the original except that it was now a fully-developed theatre.

However, during the Second World War in 1941 the theatre was bombed and was not opened again until 1950 when it was re-built to be the theatre we know today. The sea view lounge was added later in 1960.

Julie said: “The Spa Pavilion as it stands at the moment has an 892-seat auditorium and a restaurant that overlooks the sea and has been attracting theatre-goers from all over Suffolk and beyond for over 100 years.

“It is a fantastic milestone that for a century the Spa Pavilion has entertained and delighted visitors and residents of Felixstowe. The theatre is still going strong and remains at the heart of the community.”

Today the Spa Pavilion hosts about 100 shows a year, some are one-nighters, others longer runs of musicals and pantomimes.

Julie said the venue's success over the years has been due to the variety of shows presented.

She said: “It is a wonderful theatre and it is great to see it is still going strong, 100 years is definitely worth celebrating.”

What are your memories of the Spa Pavilion? Does it hold a special place in your heart? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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WHILE rifling through some of the Spa Pavilion's old scrap books and posters, manager Julie Howes made a fascinating discovery

She said: “I came across a tattered copy of Spa's Song. I had never heard about it but it was written in 1936 by a man called Wynford Reynolds who played here with his orchestra throughout the 1930s. I'd love to learn more about it.”

Written in the key of D the song appears to have been written especially for the Spa.

The lyrics include the lines

Happiness is catching just like mumps and 'flu.

Laugh and spread the infection, Come along, come along do;

So Smile a little smile, sing a little song,

Follow this advice and you can't go wrong,

For this cocktail of happiness let us all go,

To the jolly old Spa at FELIXSTOWE.

Do you remember Wynford Reynolds? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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Thursday, June 25 - A gala celebration to invited guests.

Friday, June 26 - Open day to include guided backstage tours.

Saturday, June 27 - 100 years of the Spa variety show.

Tickets are already on sale for two performances which will include sections by a number of amateur companies and organisations which have long been associated with the venue - IODS, Company of Four, Stage Door, Co-op Juniors, Dennis Lowe Theatre Company. Deben High School and Stagecoach.

Julie said: “We will have a display of artefacts and memorabilia from 100 years of the Spa throughout the celebrations and we are looking for things to exhibit. If people have old programmes, pictures or memories they would like to share please get in touch.”

To find out more, call 01394 282126.

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IN the late 50s and early 60s The Spa Pavilion was home to a number of summer variety shows such as “Hilarity” in 1961, “Summer Serenade” in 1962 and “Starlight Rendezvous” in 1967.

The theatre has seen many famous performers over the years, with big-name stars such as Billy Dainty, Norman Wisdom, Terry Scott and Frankie Vaughan and more recently the likes of Joe Pasquale, Ben Elton and Frank Skinner. Today comedian Jimmy Carr is a regular.

Felixstowe has also played host to a number of shows that have gone on tour following a successful run in the West end shows including, The Blues Brothers, Joseph and Great Balls of Fire, the story of Jerry Lee Lewis.

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A PLAQUE inside the Spa Pavilion commemorates a man who was known as Felixstowe's Mr Entertainment.

For 43 years Dennis Lowe was closely involved with the theatre putting on shows throughout the year as well as an annual pantomime.

Dennis died suddenly in 1999 but his legacy lives on and The Dennis Lowe Theatre Company is still the theatre's resident company putting on an annual pantomime including this year's run of Dick Whittington.

Sylvia Lowe, Dennis' wife, works as front of house duty manager at the venue.

She said: “The Spa means a lot to me. The theatre was Dennis' life and the Spa Pavilion was his second home. He lived for the theatre and was involved there for 43 years.”

Sylvia said her husband directed an annual pantomime as well as an Easter review known as the Red Feather shows and a summer children's show.

She said: “The Spa Pavilion is part and parcel of our lives. Our daughter grew up on the stage there. It is very close to my heart and we have never had a Christmas without a pantomime.

“It is lovely for us that Dennis's contribution is commemorated in the theatre.”

The Spa Pavilion has always been a keen supporter of amateur dramatics companies and annually sets aside 17 weeks in their programme to companies such as FADOS (Felixstowe Amateur Dramatics and Operatic Society), FMT (Felixstowe Music Theatre), Stage Door and IODS (Ipswich Operatic and Dramatics Society).

And since 1951 the theatre has hosted an annual drama festival.

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